Come and sing large-scale Tallis/Mundy

Next workshop to look forward to is on 2nd March.  Here’s an opportunity to work on some less familiar pieces by two great masters of English renaissance music, Thomas Tallis (1505-85) and William Mundy (1529-1591). Tallis is much the better-known of these two, having composed some of the best-loved and most-performed music of its period; his music has in the last decade been recorded in its entirety and his celebrated forty-part motet Spem in Alium has become almost a pop classic. Mundy, a generation or so later than Tallis, is a more obscure figure, less of whose music has been performed and recorded, undeservedly so, since he was a fine composer. A final selection of pieces has not yet been made, but we hope to look at one or two large-scale works by these composers, or at any rate by Tallis. Possibilities include the motets Suscipe Quaeso, Videte Miraculum, Forgive me Lord my Sin, Gaude Gloriosa (we could easily spend a whole workshop on this piece alone), and Magnificat (Anglican Latin setting) all by Tallis, and Mundy’s Adolescentulus Sum Ego, In te Domine Speravi, and Nunc Dimittis to Mr Parsons. Some of these are pieces which, perhaps because of their difficulty and sheer length (Suscipe and Videte last about ten minutes, Gaude fifteen or more, and the middle sections of Gaude are reduced voices) get less of an airing than they should.


Our tutor for this event is Alistair Dixon, founder and director of the vocal ensemble Chapelle du Roi and an experienced conductor and workshop director. Alistair and Chapelle have together recorded all of Tallis’s music on ten CDs, a monumental achievement, so his expertise and authority in this repertoire is unquestionable. Alistair has directed a number of successful workshops for MEMF over the years but none recently, so it is good to welcome him back now.


Singers will be required in all voice parts. Scores will be provided.  Booking form is available to print off from the Events Diary.

Ye Olde Quill and Parchmente is no more…

Some time ago I set up a “bulletin board” as an experiment, to allow MEMF members to get in touch with each other online and discuss eg what the last workshop was like, perhaps arrange to meet up for some music-making outside workshops, etc etc.

Since this has had little use, but spammy fake sign-ups are cluttering up my inbox, I have removed the facility.

However your committee would still be very happy to have your feedback, which you can send either by using the contact form on the site, or by leaving comments on the News items.

If you wish to get in touch with other MEMF members and interested parties online, then the MEMF Facebook page is the place to go. “Like” MEMF on Facebook and join in!

Caroline Hogarth – Web Tzarina

Start Advent with a Song (or several…)!

Hopefully you have already booked your place on the December 1st Vocal Workshop with Steven Rice in Harborne. Steven will be taking us through works by Clemens (non Papa) and Mouton and if it lives up to previous vocal workshops he has tutored for us, we will enjoy some lovely music spiced up with interesting background information. 2012 is believed to be Clemens’ 500th anniversary (though this is disputed) so he’s an appropriate choice.

Note for your diaries for something to provide a soothing antidote to the rigours of January sales; on 26th January, John Hancorn is our tutor for a workshop covering Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater at Selly Oak Methodist Church. This event is for singers and continuo, booking forms available soon. As ever, we urge you to book early and in this case it will be particularly important as the particular score to be used is not too easily available and arrangements will have to be made.

Please do remember that we’d love to hear your feedback on workshops.  You can either leave comments here on the News page, or if you use Facebook, why not “Like” the MEMF page and leave comments on our wall. Yes, MEMF goes wildly techy!

The Different Faces of William Byrd – September Workshop

William Byrd Workshop leaflet cover imageThe booking form and leaflet are now available for the next MEMF workshop “The Different Faces of William Byrd” – tutor Will Dawes – on 29th September 2012. We haven’t had a Byrd workshop for quite a while now, so if you’ve been pining, it’s time to book up.  This versatile and long-lived composer created works for both small, private performances and large-scale, public events. The eventual selection of music for this workshop will depend on the balance of singers who book up.

For this reason, and for the reasons outlined in the recent Newsletter article by our Workshop coordinator, Gillian Grason-Smith, it is essential that you book early.  Last-minute bookings are causing all sorts of logistical problems and have led to near and actual cancellations of workshops.

At present, if you book but are unable to attend on the day for some reason, you will get a full refund if you let us know.  So there is no risk in booking up early!

NB this is at a new venue for us (St Paul’s Church in Warwick) so we are awaiting more details on the best places to park for this event.

Diary details


Summer Revels 2012

taborAs we assembled to start the afternoon workshop with Jeffrey Skidmore, the heavens opened once again, proving that moving the Revels to midsummer is no guarantee of better weather!   Of course, as soon as we started exploring the South American Baroque repertoire we could feel a hint of virtual sunshine even if the actual temperature stayed chilly for the time of year and we thought wistfully of the roaring fires that Middleton Hall staff kindly provide for Winter Revels.

The South American Baroque selection that Jeffrey had chosen allowed us to sample a variety of moods and languages from an area of music that he has studied extensively and continues to research for his group Ex Cathedra. With a balanced group of singers and instrumental group we tackled a lively celebration piece, a sweet invocation of the Virgin Mary, a solemn processional enlivened by discreet percussion, and others. Jeffrey Skidmore is not afraid to test out different combinations to enrich what are sometimes simple pieces, clearly written for local singers/congregation and band to learn by heart and no doubt play repeatedly during services, much as happens in some churches today.

After a satisfying workshop, the MEMF AGM took place. Welcome to two new Committee members, Meg Forgan and Jonathan Spencer. Farewell and heartfelt thanks to Jim Rowley (former Chairman) and Kate King-Smith  – both long-standing members who have made a huge contribution to MEMF. Minutes will be sent round as usual.

figures dancingThe traditional evening entertainment allowed MEMF members to share some of their favourite party pieces, and take part in madrigal singing and Playford dances. What a treat to leave at the end of the evening in almost daylight!

A full review will appear in the next Newsletter as usual.

Midlands Early Music Forum events in Winter 2011-12

Early musical instruments PraetoriusThe first outing for the Renaissance BIG Band on 26 November brought together a splendid selection of earlier instruments, a few singers and even a couple of drums. Kathleen Berg steered us rapidly through a programme of Susato dances, and the “In Dulci Jubilo” arrangements by Hieronymus and Michael Praetorius. This was also the first outing for MEMF’s new Roland electronic harpsichord/organ/fortepiano, purchased with the assistance of a generous gift from a benefactor. It is intended that the keyboard will be available both for use at workshops and also for loan to groups and individual MEMF members. More details on how this will work later.

The next Winter workshop is a treat for lovers of the earlier repertoire. David Hatcher will concentrate on Josquin and Lassus renditions of Praeter Rerum Seriem. This workshop on 21 January 2012 is for singers and renaissance-type instruments (A=440).

Our workshops are open to members of MEMF, members of other early music forums, and also to non-members and you don’t have to be a regular member of any choir or music group to come along (you do need to be able to sight-read to some extent).

We are also very happy to see members come along just to listen in to workshops in which they have an interest but can’t actively take part in – for example singers observing an instrumental workshop. Since we are often lucky enough to be working on music not readily accessible elsewhere, this can be a way to get to know some unusual repertoire even if it won’t be too polished! Members are only charged a fee for observing for certain events such as the forthcoming Master Classes with Philip Thorby.

See the Diary for events coming up. You can print off a booking form before each event to send in to the workshop coordinator.

Why Buy A Harpsichord?

Small girl sitting at a harpsichord

Encouraging the next generation of music lovers

When I was a child, one of our Christmas Eve rituals was shouting to Santa Claus up the chimney, with a long list of requests on which we were encouraged to put a range of possible gifts from small and realistic to large and out-of-the-question. An excellent idea which I used with my own offspring until they finally rebelled! One of my out-of-the-questions was, for many years, a harpsichord.


Why, given the joys of television advertising and peer pressure, a harpsichord? Well in those days it was probably to do with liking the sound it made, and being intrigued by the mystery of the instrument hidden under a cover in the corner of my piano teacher’s room. Later on when I had access to a real live harpsichord to play, I discovered that it isn’t just an instrument with a pleasant sound and an interesting history and repertoire, it has the potential to be a full-time hobby all on its own.

Oh yes, the piano player can get away with a yearly tuning of her instrument under optimal conditions, but the harpsichord player needs to be prepared to tune all of those strings nearly as often as she wants to play the keyboard. Not only that, but depending on the state of repair and how often it is played, the delicate mechanism that plucks the strings needs regular attention and tweaking.

The upside of all this tuning is of course that the temperament can be changed (fairly easily if you own a suitable electronic tuner, trickier if working off a circle of fifths). This allows for plenty of experimentation, both in solo repertoire and if working with perhaps an interested violinist. Anyone used to listening purely to equal temperament will be surprised what a difference it can make to some pieces. You can decide for yourself what works well and what sounds vile.

Now it is quite possible to buy an electronic keyboard that provides a fair reproduction of harpsichord sound and may even allow for use of different temperaments and tuning down to lower pitch at the touch of a button.

So why would anyone still want to buy a harpsichord?

Well apart from enjoying the look of a harpsichord in your house – and they are usually very lovingly finished, whether plain wood or decoratively painted – the main reason is that an electronic instrument just does not give the same feedback through the hands and body that a “real” instrument does. The slight variations in the touch from key to key (minimised on a really good instrument of course) add a lot of character, and the plucking action feels subtly different from an electronic keyboard, making you play it in a slightly different way. The way the sound resonates through the instrument makes it hit you differently to the more directed sound from on-board speakers. The whole experience is more immersive. The sound is more interesting as design and build makes a huge difference. And you have the satisfaction of continuing a tradition going back hundreds of years.

So if you have the time to commit, do think about a real harpsichord or spinet (its smaller cousin). It will consume your free time if you let it, but oh, the music you will make…